Oranges, which don’t grow in my climate, but did in my Aunt Bimmy’s California garden, are good as gold among the fruits. Many fairy tales begin with orange trees: There once was a king, who had an orange grove/tree … The action begins when the oranges are stolen or enchanted. Pear trees often serve the same function, symbolizing salvation, nourishment, reward.
It’s rare that a fruit tree takes the role of a World Tree. In China, however, the Taoist philosopher Lao-Tzu told of a peach tree so tall Paradise rested on its apex. The tree stood at the top of the highest peak in the Kwun-lum Mountains. Hsi Wang Mu, a shamanic goddess, Queen Mother of the West and Empress of Immortals, lived in a Jade Palace in the peach tree’s branches. Her hair was tangled and messy with leaves. Her teeth were like a tiger’s and she had a panther’s tail. Sparrows brought her food as she patrolled the garden and looked over the Earth.
My favorite Japanese story was about Peach Boy, Momotaro. My mother had a ceramic Momotaro doll, complete with sword and peach and tiny penis, newborn without his pants, but wearing a gorgeous peach-blossom brocade jacket. He resided in a glass box on a shelf next to similar Japanese dolls representing other wonderous legends.
In many cultures, there’s a Fruit of Death. The feminine principle of give and take at work again. In ancient Greece, the death — and love — fruit was the pomegranate, which Hades fed to Persephone so that she was obliged to return to him. And, of course, the apple signified the death of innocence for Adam and Eve.
I knew a Tibetan refugee, whose uncle, she told me, was obliged to hide from the Chinese. She was a little girl in 1957, when the Chinese invaded Tibet, young enough, her family judged, to be beyond suspicious, and so she was chosen to take food to the uncle in his hiding place in a cave. One day, she picked peaches, put them in a basket, and carried them to her uncle. She couldn’t know that she was being followed. Perhaps, she now thinks, it started because the soldiers craved those ripe and juicy peaches. But soon they noticed that there was more to this harvest. They caught the uncle and killed him before the child’s eyes. She dropped her basket of peaches and ran away screaming.
This woman would never again eat a peach. They had become fatal fruits.
Next: The story of Peach Boy.